Technology to the rescue! After decades of research, it’s still difficult for scientists and doctors to tell if athletes are overreaching or overtraining. Follow up a period of hard training, or overreaching, with appropriate rest, and performance should increase.
But throw in additional stressors while you’re overreaching and it can be hard for your body to recover, leading to overtraining syndrome and its performance-quashing effects, including a weakened immune system, fatigue, and depression.
Two new inventions promise to help keep athletes from going overboard:
What it is: A portable ECG, a device that reads the heart’s electrical activity.
What it promises: To measure your readiness to train. It tells you how your body has recovered from past workouts, and whether you’re ready to train again or take it easy.
How it works: The chest strap wirelessly transmits your heart rate data to an app on your smartphone. That app sends your data to Omegawave computers that analyze the data and send back the results in an easy-to-read display. Scientists have known for decades that certain ECG abnormalities are associated with overtraining and exercise recovery. The Omegawave uses ECG data to identify before each workout whether or not you’re fully recovered and capable of going hard without risking negative consequences.
Cost: $129 for sensor belt, $9.90 monthly or $99 yearly subscription to app
What it is: A temporary tattoo-like sensor that monitors lactate levels
What it promises: To let you know when you’re running low on glycogen so you can avoid bonking or “hitting a wall” during a workout.
How it works: As NewScientist explains, muscles fuel turn glycogen into energy during intense workouts, creating lactic acid in the process. The sensor measures lactate levels, and in the future, may pair with a smartphone for real-time lactate readings.
Cost: The sensor is still in development.
Caveat: As far as preventing overtraining, the sensor may not be incredibly helpful. Though low muscle glycogen is associated with poor performance and exercise-induced fatigue, researchers are unconvinced that it can cause overtraining syndrome. However, the sensor can help athletes fuel more efficiently during a tough workout, and decide when to back off.